tirsdag 16. februar 2010

EnerVault lands $3.5M to make cheap, grid-scale batteries a reality

With bigger name battery companies like A123Systems and Johnson Controls-Saft getting most of the attention, Enervault, a maker of flow battery technology, has been flying under the radar. Now the young company, which may have one of the most practical solutions for grid-scale storage, has raised $3.5 million in new venture funding to make a name for itself.
Flow batteries are different than the other big storage concepts on the market right now, including lithium-ion cells, flywheels and fuel cells. They rely on big storage tanks full of positive and negative electrodes that are continuously pumped through an AC/DC converter. When the batter begins to run out of power, more electrolyte solution is circulated, ensuring that it always has some juice.
This system has proven to be both cheaper (below $100 per kilowatt-hour, compared to $500 to $1,000 for lithium-ion batteries) and safer than competing ideas. Considering that cost is the biggest factor preventing storage from being scaled up, EnerVault could be a game changer.
One of the biggest advantages to flow battery technology is that it is well suited to storing energy generated by solar arrays and wind farms. One of the challenges preventing these renewable technologies from becoming more widespread is that their output is intermittent and unreliable. An efficient storage method could solve these problems — meaning that whole communities could run 100 percent on solar and wind. And the more affordable the storage technology, the more affordable the energy for consumer. These batteries could one day make renewables cost competitive with coal and natural gas.
EnerVault says it will use its new financing to build a prototype, demonstrating the potential to scale flow batteries’ capacity into the megawatts and even gigawatts. Once it has something physical to show off, the company will apply for government funding to deploy its batteries across the country. It’s already stepping up hiring and customer recruitment in preparation.
EnerVault could become a major partner for utilities looking to green their power mixes. California could be a prime target, with utility companies required to be generating a third of their energy output from alternative sources by 2020. Flow batteries, if successfully scaled for the grid, could be the major breakthrough that achieves this goal.
EnerVault’s recent round of funding came from U.S. Invest and Oceanshore Ventures. It snagged a $650,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency last year.
The Sunnyvale, Calif. company will still face some tough competition from Deeya Energy, another flow battery maker that has raised $53 million from backers like Technology Partners, BlueRun Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Element Partners, Nokia and New Enterprise Associates.

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